Generating and Refining Research Ideas: Choosing a Research Topic

Generating and Refining
Research Ideas:
Choosing a Research Topic
Course Instructor
Generating ideas for your
• Good ideas come from all kinds of places
• Don’t close down the idea-generation process
too early
• A research topic defines an area to research
• A research setting and sample will emerge
• Don’t let your method or context dictate your
• Avoid over-complexity, maintain a clear focus,
avoid project paralysis
Sources of ideas - Practical
• One that you identify
• One that is identified for you by an
organisational sponsor
• One that comes from a world event
• Make sure that it is relevant
Sources of ideas - Theoretical
• Theories, models or concepts from the
academic literature
• Problems of incomplete knowledge
• Challenging existing theories and models
What is theory?
• “a supposition or system of ideas explaining
something” (Oxford English Dictionary)
• Theory denotes a set of well-developed
categories… that are systematically inter-related
through statements of relationship… to offer an
explanation about phenomena (Strauss and
Corbin, 1998)
• Theories are not right or wrong, they are only
more or less useful (Szmatka et al., 2002)
Types of theory
Increasing capacity
to change the way
we think about
the world
Increasing restrictions
in terms of general
Middle-range theories
Substantive theories
Refining your research topic
• Narrow down the topic to a reasonable scope using
research questions that:
define your research topic
define the nature of your research
define the issues that you will explore
develop propositions or hypotheses if appropriate
• Avoid biased or self-answering questions
• Use the literature for support
A mind-map to describe your topic
Source: Omozo Ehigie via Maylor and Blackmon (2005)
A hierarchy of concepts to refine your
Venn Diagrams to refine your research topic
Attributes of a good research topic
Capability: is it feasible?
– Does the topic fascinate you?
– Do you have the research skills?
– Achievable within the timeframe?
– Financially viable / achievable?
– Data is accessible?
Attributes of a good research topic
Appropriateness: is it worth while?
– Does the topic fit the specification and
standards of the examining institution?
– Topic has clear links to (relevant) theory?
– Able to state clear objectives/research
– Is the research able to provide fresh
– Are the findings likely to be symmetrical?
– Does the topic match your career goals?
In-Class Exercise (Group Work)
MAXIMUM TIME: 45 Minutes
1. Form groups (5 to 7 members / group)
2. Using the techniques for topic selection
discuss and formulate a research topic
3. During discussion with the class instructor
defend your topic and why you chose it
(Each topic provided by a group will be critically
reviewed to highlight its strengths and suggest
improvements, if needed)